Dilyana Popova – Bulgarian Model/Actress
In Bulgaria, and other post-communist countries, depictions of sex did not exist for several decades. It was nowhere to be found – not in books, magazines, on TV, and not even in school. So where did sex disappear?
In the period 1944-1990, Bulgaria was under a socialist (or communist) regime, following the footsteps of ‘sister’ countries such as Russia and Ukraine. This is not in itself unusual, many countries throughout history have been under such regimes. Privately owned land was shared nationally, entrepreneurship was banned, blue jeans were labelled ‘devil’s attire’ and Rolling Stones became the symbol of hellish Western capitalism – a communist’s worst nightmare.
Still, things were kind of normal – I guess – and people were living their lives. But something was missing. Sex. Sex was non-existent. Sex was shameful. No one talked about it – ever. It was like babies magically grew on trees, were brought in by a massive stork or produced by the party. This suggestions seem ludicrous and yet no one asked any questions. Or did they?
I grew up in post-communist Bulgaria in the 2000s and sex was everywhere. My parents and their parents saw a different story though. Or should I say: they saw nothing of it. In my family, sex was never a taboo, and I’m glad I was brought up to be comfortable with my body and sexuality. I thought the most appropriate people to ask about the utter lack of sex in communist times were my parents. Skype-ing over a bottle of wine, they opened up to me and told me exactly how it felt to live a life without sex.
Was sex really absent from everywhere?
Both replied ‘yep’. It definitely was absent. No books, no movies, no pictures in magazines. The only time my dad saw something sexual was when his friend showed him some (very naughty) naked pictures he stole from his house. My mom said she’d never seen anything sexual until she was intimate with a boy herself – the only exception being when her best friend took a copy of The Thorn Birds so that they could read the part where Meghann and Father Ralph got it on…
Ridiculous! So how did this affect you as you were growing up? Did you seek sexual expression? Could you speak to your parents?
‘No way,’ says my Mom. ‘I have never had a sexual conversation with anyone, not even my friends. We were extremely curious but too shy to ever mention it. During the political regime, combined with the Bulgarian patriarch tradition, we were brought up to believe sex was a shameful and disgraceful act. This made me very insecure about my body and some of my girlfriends had children quite young – only because they had no idea what to do. I didn’t have a clue either. I felt my female sexuality was suppressed, or non-existent at all. I wished my mother or cousin would talk to be about sex. I’d probably be more comfortable with myself as an adult.’
Dad agrees, but adds: ‘I was quite sexual as a child and when I got into adolescence, me and my friends were always talking about sex. We mostly lied about having kissed a girl or grabbed someone’s butt. We were stupid boys! We’d always look to see a girl spreading her legs or touching her hip. And then we would feel extremely ashamed. Once I tried to talk to my mother about having a sexual dream, it was super awkward, she said “Just talk to your dad!”. It took him two days to come and talk to me and the whole talk consisted of “It’s fine, son” and a friendly slap on the neck. Sweet.’
To sum things up, sex was bad, nasty, immoral and definitely not in line with the party’s ideology.
‘We were told that touching yourself is extremely unhealthy and bad for you. The government was issuing these booklets with propaganda against masturbation, filled with “expert” advice telling you that masturbating leads to mental disorders and homosexuality. This is hard to believe now, but imagine what a 14-year-old thinks when they read this’ my Dad said. ’We were made to believe that our bodies and sexual desires are filthy and wrong. The doctors would tell us – if you have a hard on, get down and do 20 push-ups until it goes away! Good luck with that….’’
And yet, the people up the Communist party hierarchy were having lots of sex with the best women.
‘Everyone knew that the party leaders and people in the government had many mistresses’ my Mom explained. ’They weren’t even hiding it! But they insisted on telling us that having sex, even talking about sex, is bad. This was shocking, extremely disgusting and it just shows everything that communism stands for – double morale and lies, lies, lies.’
Communism put sex in a box and put it away from everyone. But it was secretly opening up this box when no one was watching. This resulted in generations of people, ashamed to be sexually satisfied, left thinking that their intimate desires and thoughts are wrong. Worst of all, they were forced to believe that suppressing your sexuality is a good thing and appreciating it will make you mentally unstable or sick. Many girls had children without wanting to; many boys became sexually aggressive; many men had to stay in loveless marriages, scared to admit their homosexuality. All of this happened while the minister was shagging his mistress in his villa on the beach.
By Yoana Velikova